5 Jan 2014

Restraint on US economic growth seen as easing

11:40 am on 5 January 2014

In one of his last public appearances as head of the US Federal Reserve, chairman Ben Bernanke said on Friday he thought that the factors that kept the economy from accelerating were finally easing.

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. Photo: Getty Images / AFP

In remarks at a conference of economists in Philadelphia on Friday, he said US consumers were spending more on homes, a sign of progress, and added that the alleviation of some fiscal discord in Washington boded well for 2014.

"The degree of restraint on economic growth seems likely to lessen somewhat in 2014 and even more so in 2015," said Mr Bernanke.

He said it may be the result of the severity of the financial crisis that tightened credit conditions, inhibiting innovation, or may reflect longer-term trends unrelated to the recession.

"Obviously, the resolution of the productivity puzzle will be important in shaping our expectations for longer-term growth."

Referring to a fall in the unemployment rate in the United States from 10% in 2009 to 7% recently, Mr Bernanke nevertheless insisted:

"Much progress has been made, but more remains to be done. "

The jobless rate "still is elevated," he said, reiterating concerns about the "unusually high" number of long-term unemployed and declining participation in the labour force, in part probably due to people discouraged by poor job prospects.

Mr Bernanke's term ends on 31 January. Vice chair Janet Yellen is expected to be confirmed as his successor on Monday by the US Senate.